Sometimes it takes a couple of days of alternating between feeling like being trapped in a furnace and a sub-zero freezer to appreciate how good it feels to be alive and well. I’ve spent the last couple of days battling the red-headed step child of malaria and bird flu. If you consider lying in bed whining and sleeping to be battling. Thankfully I am fortunate enough to have a girlfriend who took excellent care of me, parents full of doctorly advice, and a sister who the night before the Prom took the time to make and send me this card.
That probably took her five minutes because she’s supremely talented but it meant a lot, especially when I was genuinely concerned I picked up Malaria in the jungles of Laos. Technically the symptoms of Malaria can wax and wane at will so I could still have it; if I start feeling sick again I’m headed straight to the local shaman.
Since we got back from Laos we’ve been living a fairly Spartan existence, occasionally springing for Indian food. We live paycheck to paycheck. Kara and I adhere to a fairly strict budget that we can’t really afford to ignore, at least if we want to eat on a daily basis. And I’m perfectly happy, we knew when we moved here we wouldn’t be sailing caviar and eating yachts. That being said, it’s fun to experience how the other half lives. Kara’s parents and younger brother came to visit for a week in early April, and allowed me the honor and privilege of joining them as they bounced around Thailand. We started with a full day in Bangkok, followed by three days at the Anantara Golden Triangle resort outside Chiang Rai at which you have views of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar outside your bedroom window. Next we stopped for two days in Phuket, and then looped back to Bangkok.
I always forget that to most of you readers these city names don’t mean anything without any context, so here’s a map. I’ll try and do a better job of this in the future.
Their one full day in Bangkok Kara’s family spent the day sightseeing, taking a look around our neighborhood, and then going out to dinner. One of Mr. Warschausky’s business associates was kind enough to take us to a fabulous restaurant for a 8ish course meal.
Kitti and his two daughters were very kind and went so far out of their way to show us a good time. After dinner we found a nice outdoor lounge to have a drink and smoke Cuban cigars Carl had brought from home. I felt like Don Draper, sitting there with a glass of Macallan in one hand and a cuban in the other. The next day we began our jaunt in earnest.
There were two pretty clear themes for the trip, one of which is a Warschausky family staple: food. Over the course of a week I had at least three of the best meals I’ve ever had the pleasure of cramming into my face. Thai food gets elevated to another level when its coming from masterful chefs, and it was at a pretty impressive level to begin with. I’m no food critic so I’m going to spare you all the gritty details about the individual meals, but I ate so much I was starting to feel like an elephant by the end of the week.
Hey, speaking of elephants (transitions!), they’re theme number two! At the Anantara Golden Triangle Resort we spent three days riding, watching, and generally just hanging out with man’s other, larger best friend. The elephant sanctuary is home to elephants rescued after losing their jobs in the recently outlawed Thai logging industry. As you can imagine it is extraordinarily difficult and expensive to care for an elephant, so these creatures that were being used to carry huge amounts of cargo out of the jungle would have nowhere to go. At Anantara, each elephant is given to a an individual mahout (elephant whisperer) to be cared for drawing from the resources of the Resort. They were well cared for and seemed very content. The stereotype is that elephants are smart. They mourn their dead, have complicated heirarchies within their herds, have distinct personalities, and have wrinkly skin giving them a wise aura about them. I imagine Pacadermetologists are very in-demand (I know while everyone else groans at that terrible terrible joke my Dad is laughing and thinking about professional Sneeze-guard scrapers, Kenny Blankenship, and Vic Romano.)
We arrived at Anantara very late due to airplane troubles in BKK, in which we had to board, deplane, reboard the same plane, deplane AGAIN, and then finally get on a new plane and GTFO of there. It felt like a 4 hour long SNL skit, especially when the airlines answer to red-faced business men was to timidly hand them dinner vouchers for the food court.
After a good night sleep and a delicious breakfast, we set off for our morning elephant ride. Before our training we had the pleasure of meeting the 1 month old baby.
Being 1 month old, walking was still a skill to master. He spent the whole time we were there stumbling around his cage from person to person trying to get his head scratched and banging his head into the wall like an adorable roomba.
After sufficient coaxing from our Aussie trek leader, we moved on to the very much fully grown elephants. We quickly learned how to mount, dismount and communicate with our elephants. After a half hour I could get up and down, tell the her where and how fast I wanted to go, and get her to roll over. Of course, this is all with the help of lots of bananas, bamboo, and mahouts whispering the commands to them that we were all undoubtedly butchering. We were now ready to begin our 2 hour trek through the jungle.
The trek was exhilarating. It was much easier and more natural feeling than the first time Kara and I did it in Laos, although the elephants definitely had a mind of their own. They would frequently stop to eat, rub themselves against walls, and do random mischievous things like spray Kara.
At one point we stopped and bathed with them.
The elephants definitely had a sense of humor. Mine would not stop trying to spray me in the face, which is why in the last photo I’m ducking.
My favorite thing to do on the trek was to get my elephant to stop and fall behind, and then get something approaching a light jog going to catch up to the pack. I think she was very annoyed, as I would be too if somebody was trying to get me to jog with someone on my back, but overall we had a great time together.
At the end of the trek, Ryan’s elephant tried to swallow his head.
After the trek we all relaxed for a while before getting massages at the resort, an experience I thoroughly enjoyed but barely remember because I was in a trance like state. The next day we got an early start to meet Teacher Witt and go to an expansive market to get supplies for our cooking class. The market was full of exotic fruits, vegetables, meats etc.
That soup contains pigs blood and was allegedly very tasty although believe it or not I passed. We bought two of those fish to bring back to class and grill. We made an obligatory stop at the local temple, where we ate a quick breakfast and Witt taught Carl how to pray.
Everyone stuck a little gold leaf onto that Buddha statue for good luck. Next we moved on to the kitchen. Where under the supervision of Witt and his wine pouring assistant who’s name who’s name escapes me, we prepared massaman curry, sour green mango salad over fried sea bass, tom yum gung and tom kha gai (sour shrimp soup and sour chicken soup). I’ll admit to being more of a supervisor while the Warschausky clan really took the reigns on this one, but we made some seriously delicious food. Witt definitely pulled his weight by keeping us on track and pumping us full of interesting facts that went in one ear and out the other.
After subduing to a food coma in the afternoon, we took a second shorter elephant trek up a mountain to see the sunset with some wine and hors d’oeuvres. We got chairs for this one, but I much preferred sitting on the elephant’s head because the swaying motion of the chair made me nauseous. The clouds kept the sunset from being spectacular, but our little photo shoot yielded good results.
The elephant seemed okay with doing it’s version of bicep curls and she was handsomely rewarded with dozens of bananas for her efforts. As the sun went down we rode our elephants back to the resort and hopped in a van to take us out into the dark countryside for our dinner at Anantara with… you probably guessed it! More Elephants!!!
After another terrific dinner we were surprised with lanterns to write our wishes on and release into the night sky.
For some reason I really enjoy the picture of us all watching the lantern and Kara looking goony. After one last look at the elephants we were back to the resort. After spending the better part of our trip building emotional connections with them it was sad to say goodbye. The mahouts got them to roar wistfully after us as we drove away.
The next morning we flew to Phuket, uneventfully thank god, and arrived at our resort. This part of the trip was more relaxing and uneventful . We spent the next two days lounging around our two private villas, the beach, and the massive pool. Laurie and Kara went shopping one day while Carl, Ryan and I swam in the ocean and had drinks at the pool bar. The waves at the beach were of a respectable size but not big enough for a serious surfer. We enjoyed two phenomenal dinners, one of which included the best cut of beef I’ve ever had hands down.
I think we were a little sick of taking so many pictures, so remarkably all I really have is a picture of the beach and a couple of us at dinner.
All in all our couple of days in Phuket were relaxing and pleasant vacation days, but won’t be as memorable as Anantara. Elephants have a way of taking up a lot of space in your brain I suppose.
After flying home and one more incredible dinner, it was time to say goodbye. It was sad for me to see them go, but it was very hard on Kara. I think in our situation it’s not that hard to put memories of friends and family on the back burner when they’re far away, but seeing them up close and personal and then watching them leave reminds us of all the things we miss from home. Sometimes it’s hard to be so far away.
I know you got tired of hearing it from me but Carl and Laurie thank you for letting me tag-a-long on your Thailand vacation. I had a blast and am so grateful! Ryan if you ever read this I hope Prom was fun and congrats on graduating! I’m gonna ride out on a water buffalo.